Corporate transparency: ‘not just an end in itself’

While European politicians are pushing for more tax transparency, multinational companies - tired of regulation for the sake of it - are starting to push back. TP Week reports from the Commonwealth Secretariat conference.

Geoff Healy, BHP Billiton’s chief external affairs officer, said there was a need for “purposeful” transparency for corporates but while transparency is a good measure it “just isn’t an end in itself”.

“There’s more that can be done to make transparency purposeful, and you’ve got to get down to a degree of granularity but please ask us to do it in one way, not 12 different ways,” Healy said during a panel discussion in London at a conference on Wednesday organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat. Healy has also worked as BHP Billiton's chief risk and legal officer.

The conference was a precurser to today’s anti-Corruption summit hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and involving international leaders on anti-corruption. 

Some of the discussion focused on transparency, including the OECD’s global push for transparency in tax and guidelines for country-by-country reporting (CbCR) with provisions for the automatic exchange of information. The EU has proposed that the information on European economic activities in CbCR should be made public. 

Transparency Impact

While companies may balk, governments have highlighted transparency as a way to tackle corruption and many groups are pushing for companies to publish more information and lobbying for governments to publish registers on beneficial ownership.

Two industries, banking and extractives, have already felt the impact of transparency. Under EU rules, banks and extractive companies are now required to publish details of their tax payments.

In an exclusive interview with TP Week, Fredrik Reinfeldt, president of Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, said: “I think that you see the start of a change, but it’s different.”

 “I think for some companies it’s very important to say that ‘we pay our taxes, we think that’s part of doing good business, being a part of a good society’, and I think that you see divisions in business life among those who say ‘well we’re just following the laws of this country’ and those who are saying ‘it’s important not to push it to the grey area and to the limits’, and who are standing up for actually paying taxes,” Reinfeldt added.